Jak King of Grandview-Woodland writes book about East Vancouver community's battle against city hall

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      People did new things amid COVID-19.

      Some learned to bake.

      Others bought a home.

      Jak King wrote a book.

      “This is my pandemic cure,” King told the Straight by phone about his recently released Battleground: Grandview. An Activist’s Memoir of the Grandview Community Plan, 2011-2016 (The Drive Press, 288 pages).

      King is a well-known community advocate in Vancouver.

      He’s also a prolific writer, whose online Jak’s View of Vancouver is a must-read for people interested in urban issues.

      King’s book offers a first-hand account of the five years that went into a planning process to come up with a new community plan for Grandview-Woodland.

      The East Vancouver area is bounded by Clark Drive, Nanaimo Street, East 12th Avenue, and Burrard Inlet.

      What transpired between 2011 and 2016 was a battle to determine Grandview-Woodland’s future growth over the next 30 years.

      “I think the biggest takeaway should be that in that particular era, and I think it continues to this day, there was a disrespect for community opinion by so-called experts in [City of Vancouver’s] planning [department],” King said in the interview.

      King also did not pull back punches against the ruling civic party at the time, which was Vision Vancouver of then mayor Gregor Robertson.

      “Unfortunately during the Vision era, they were supported by a political party that was also technocratic and believed in experts rather than community opinion,” the community activist said.

      “I think that’s the biggest takeway: that they spent a great deal of time and energy working how to silence the community voice in a way that made them look good, but did not achieve anything from the community,” King said.

      King recalled that there was a time when city hall valued the input of citizens.

      He pointed to the old CityPlan, which was adopted by city council on June 6, 1995. Philip Owen was mayor at the time.

      As the CityPlan document stated, it was a “unique” plan, one that was not prepared by city planners and then distributed to citizens.

      CityPlan was developed by citizens themselves.

      “Everthing was bottom-up,” King said.

      He recalled that the overall city plan at the time was an “amalgation” of local community plans drawn up by residents.

      “But ever since [former mayor] Sam Sullivan followed up by Gregor [Robertson] and his [Vision] pals, there’s been a top-down stiuation, where the city determines what happens,” King said.

      King noted that citizens might get some say on “little details here and there, but essentially the plan is top-down”.

      “Development, I think, should come up from the ground, rather than down from the sky,” King said.

      The future redevelopment of areas around the Commercial-Broadway Station of SkyTrain has been one of the most contentious issues in Grandview-Woodland.

      In 2013, there was a public outcry against initial ideas by the city.

      These included mixed-use towers of 27 to 36 storeys at the Safeway site.

      In areas near the transit hub, high-rise buildings of 18 to 22 floors were contemplated.

      During the Grandview-Woodland planning process, a citizens’ assembly formed by the city set out to make its own recommendations.

      In 2015, the assembly released its report, offering ideas for a new community plan.

      “We want to restrict the height at the Broadway-Commercial station intersection (SE [sought east] corner) and south along Commercial Drive to eight storeys,” the assembly wrote, referring in part to the Safeway site, which is at the southeast corner.

      “We want to allow a maximum of 12 storeys on the east side of the site…,” the assembly said about the Safeway location.

      In 2016, the Vision city council approved a new Grandview-Woodland Community Plan.

      For the Safeway site, the plan doubled the maximum storeys of future buildings that the assembly suggested to 24 storeys.

      Crombie Real Estate Investment Trust and Westbank have partnered for the redevelopment of the location.

      In 2019, the partners submitted a proposal for three towers with heights of 24, 27, and 30 storeys.

      A new rezoning application was made in 2020 for taller high-rises: 25, 29, and 30 storeys.

      “This will be the biggest site in Grandview-Woodland for many years to come,” King said.

      As the pandemic began last spring, King thought of writing an essay about the experience of the community.

      When he got together all the writings he did on his blog about the community plan, he collected about 300,000 words.

      Instead of an essay, King delivered a book.

      Battleground: Grandview is available the People’s Co-op Bookstore (1391 Commercial Drive), and – Super Valu (1645 East 1st Avenue). One can also order a copy at jakking@shaw.ca.